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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  March 1, 2011 7:00pm-7:30pm EST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. as the political battle in wisconsin carries on for another week, first up tonight, the president of wisconsin's largest teachers' union, mary belle, and a standoff has forced a debate, which is likely to carry on into next year's presidential race -- mary bell. and "inside job," charles ferguson's looked about the meltdown on wall street. it will be released soon on dvd. join us for mary bell and oscar winner charles ferguson, coming up. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help
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but>> yes. >> to everyone making a qaeda difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: mary bell is serving her second term as president of the wisconsin education council, following more than 25 years as a teacher in the state. organization represents
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thousands in the state of wisconsin, and she joins us tonight from madison. mary bell, thank you for joining us. >> thank you for having me, tavis. tavis: the latest. what is happening in wisconsin? >> the protesters have been part of the capital environment for almost two weeks now, who are still being part of that, making sure that the voice of the people of wisconsin is heard. they have restricted access to our capital, but there are still people who are outside and some who are inside, maintaining that presents to say that they will not be silent as well as the voices of others are in danger. tavis: there are so many making comments about what this fight is about, ranging from collective bargaining all of the way to the republican party, when to demonize and qte
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frankly to crush the union movement. what this fight was and is about? >> well, since the governor's budget proposal of two weeks ago, we have known that wisconsin is in an economic difficult circumstance. it is part -- impossible to be part of a community and not know what your neighbors and your families and friends are experiencing, and what we said was we were willing to be a part to make sure the state can balance the budget. the governor chose not to talk to us about that but instead issued a set of demands along with eliminating for all intents and purposes collective bargaining rights for all public employees in the state, without having a single conversation with the people who represent those employees. we have agreed to all of the economic concessions. to balance the budget. they were agreed to in a conversation with ourselves,
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since he was not speaking with us, and that still was not enough. he believes and maintains regularly that it is necessary to strip a certain category of employees, public employees in this state, of collective bargaining rights for something that he says he needs flexibility, and local governments will need flexibility for the budget proposal, which he has yet to introduce. hi. tavis: he made it very clear. some tough decisions had to be made. he was going to ask for some shared sacrifice. when the people of wisconsin voted him in, they knew that these kinds of issues were going to be on the table. he won, so he gets a chance now to do what he told the voters he was going to do. >> demanding pension payment increases in addition to what we already have, to demand that we
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pay a higher percentage of health-care costs, those for all on the table. , wisconsin voters understood that. but seven out of 10 in a wisconsin believe this goes too far. they do not believe of stripping people of collective bargaining rights. they do not believe in denying them of a voice in the workplace about things like safety security, about how the school is operated, curriculum, class size, everything the governor is bringing in under the guise of a fiscal bill. it is not about fiscal policy. this is about stripping workers of their rights, of stripping working families of their right to be heard. tavis: to your point earlier, this is an issue inside of madison, and given the world that you play, there are all kinds of republicans -- and given the role that you play. they are coming to the defense of mr. walker, and the argument
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has been made that republicans in wisconsin and beyond, there are other states that are about to do the same thing, that this is about crushing unions in this country. do you have thoughts about that? >> well, i do not think there is any question about them wanting to crush unions, and i think the argument has been made here in wisconsin that he does not believe that unions work with their local districts, local units of government, and i think we have a lot of evidence to the contrary, that we do that, and that we are part of every community in this state. there are also republican governors who say they would not go as far as governor walker. they say they are not looking to crush unions. in fact, they want to work with the voice of labor in their states in order to make economic decisions about what is to happen and to move education reform, as just one example,
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forward. we are willing to do that, and the governor has chosen not to talk to us. paris -- talk to us. tavis: there are some democrats to have been running. some consider them cowardly, that the last thing that you do is to run away from your fight, run away from your job, run away from your responsibility. >> i do not think there is any cow orderliness -- how orderliness -- cowardliness. he is going to raise 55 years plus of stability and peace in our schools and public places -- he is going to erase 55 years. they took their best course in making sure that the public in wisconsin learned what was in
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this bill, not just for public employees, but what put medicare at risk, medicaid at risk, senior care. programs that have been established and that care for citizens of wisconsin that are a part of this. and now, as i say, seven out of 10 in wisconsin say this bill goes too far. what we have to have is republican senators who are willing to stand up to say they stand with the people of wisconsin and not this extreme agenda. tavis: it would not be better to have a president who would stand with the workers. let me read a comment from president obama. "i do not think it does anybody any good when their rights are infringed upon. we need to attract the best and brightest to public service. these times demand it pure " nobody can disagree or argue about that comment -- these times demanded."
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-- demand it." nobody can disagree or argue about that comment. i do not think i hear the kind of solidarity, given the support they gave him in the election. >> this guy is really about a fight with wisconsin nights -- this fight is really a fight about wisconsinites. we can eliminate the rights of workers, eliminate that voice that is so important to move forward, for the very reasons that the president outlined. he wants to move things fourth, and he believes that doing that with labor is the best way forward -- he wants to move things forward. i believe secretary duncan has spoken directly with the governor about it. it just not -- does not seem to
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get through. tavis: it has lit a flame that has spread to ohio and indiana and other states. this issue is be on the front burner when we get to his presidential races. when 61% in one poll agree with you all, that you cannot strip away collective bargaining, this is not just wisconsin, it is a national issue. >> we know that it is a national issue. the issues are much broader. the kind of polling that you indicate is a very, very heartening to us, people understand what this means and that they really believe is wrong, but right now, we have to focus on the legislature here in wisconsin. we have had the largest demonstrations outside the city of madison, so this is no longer just a legislative battle at the capitol. this has gone to communities around the state and, in
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addition, to communities around the country, and as i said, a lot of governors you may have had the same idea, this is not something they want to take on. tavis: i believe courage is contagious. mary bell, the best in your fight. >> thank you. solidarity. tavis: up next, an oscar-winning director. stay with us. charles ferguson is a talented documentary filmmaker who, of course, won an academy award for his latest project, "inside job," a look at what led to the global financial crisis and the problems on wall street. it is on dvd and blu-ray. here now is a scene from "inside job."
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>> after taking office, obama talked about the need to reform the financial industry. >> we need a protection agency and need to change the wall street culture. >> but in its first year, the obama administration did not enact a single financial reform. >> addressing obama and, quote, regulatory reform, my response will be hah. there is very little reform. >> how come? >> it is a wall street government. tavis: first of all, let the record state that you are wearing jeans today. >> i am. tavis: can i grabbed this? >> you certainly can. tavis: these are very nice, very heavy. let me ask you how it feels to
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have done something that is prestigious enough to have claimed this prize? everybody is talking about it too has seen this documentary, and by your own speech of the night, nothing has changed. what happens when you invest so much of yourself, and you claim this prize, but what you care about, the issue, has not changed? >> it is, of course, disappointed, but there are many working on this, and sometimes, things take time. you have to take the long view. the world is not a perfect place, and democracies sometimes works slowly, but it is better than the alternative. tavis: you may not get this back if i do not put it down. the process of knowing how to attack the subject matter. i ask that because this is such a massive issue.
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trying to squeeze this into a documentary, how do you know exactly what your route was going to be? >> well, of course, in the beginning, i did not, but i had a lot of help. i am very fortunate in that it turned out that i have known for a long time several of the people who were among those who first warned about the coming of this crisis. two of the people in the film, including nouriel roubini, there are people i have known for 10 to 20 years. they started talking to me about this, "something is coming down here." so by the time lehman brothers collapse in 2008, and i decided to make a film, i had already been taught a lot about this, and then i just started doing a lot of research. tavis: what surprised you the most? >> there were two surprises, in
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a pretty bad direction. there was the bush administration is response to crisis in 2008. the people were so completely unprepared for, example, the collapse of lehman brothers and what its collapse would mean. the second surprise was just the incredibly low level of ethical behavior in american investment banking. when i started making the film, it was clear that some bad things had happened, but if someone had told me that we were going to discover that all of the major investment banks had been creating securities and selling them with the intent of profiting by betting against them, betting on their failure, i would have said, "no, we do not do that in the united states," but, it turns out, we do. tavis: we had the chair of the financial in greek crisis
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commission. two things stand out -- the chair of the financial inquiry crisis. this thing was avoidable, number one, and number two that the government was not prepared, as you just mentioned, to handle it when it came. what do you make of this? all of this, if we are to believe the commission and believe your documentary, all of this was avoidable? >> well, it is horrible, of course. america went through 40 years without any financial crisis when regulation was much tighter, and banking was not quite so exciting. you know, banking has got an exciting in a very dangerous way, and we have to return to a much more regulated financial sector. i hope that the american people will become upset enough and angry enough and informed enough and activist enough to do something about this. tavis: you mentioned president
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bush in your indictment of what went wrong. this is not a republican problem. there is blame for the clinton administration, blamed for the obama administration. talk about the bipartisan nature of this crisis. >> it is a fairly bipartisan problem at this point. many of us, including myself, were deeply disappointed with president obama's behavior. he said things during his campaign that led us to believe he would take action about this, and when people voted for him and contributed to his campaign, i think many thought these issues would be addressed, and it has been a huge disappointment to see that he has turned out to be in many ways just more of the same, whether it is because of his personal emotional characteristics or because of the structural issue that wall street gives money in enormous quantities to both parties now, i do not know.
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maybe a mixture of the two. but this is, in a general way, a dangerously bipartisan problem, because america only has two political parties, and they are both so captured by wall street and wall street money. tavis: when president obama started announcing to his team was going to be, should we have known then what was going to happen? helping to do regulate back in the clinton years, which started this process in motion? >> it certainly began to look that way. one could always hope that the president himself would override his advisers and control and manage them, but, yes, the first really bad disappointing sign was the team he selected, and you are right. it was many clintonites and many who contributed to the crisis and often people in who had done
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unethical things in banking. tavis: what about that nobody has paid a price for this, and for somebody to pay a price, it means that somebody in the justice department has to make this a priority. here again, nobody pays the price. >> it was not always this way. after deregulation started in the 1980's, and america started having very unethical behavior in financial crises, as a result -- and financial crises, as a result, 7000 financial executives were put in prison. several thousand people were put in prison. literally this time, zero. it is a devastating, devastating -- tavis: why is that? >> i think, predominately, it is
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the power that wall street has now. the financial sector at the height of the bubble just before the crisis was 40% of american corporate profits, and now, the wealthiest one-tenth of 1% of the population have the lowest tax rates and an unprecedented amount of wealth, and these companies employ former government officials, in they lobbied very heavily, and they have become so ingrained -- and they lobby very heavily. even in the academic system. it is now very, very difficult to take forceful action against them. tavis: so how likely is it that over the course of your career that you may end up doing another piece similar to this because we will find ourselves, once again, in a situation similar to this? >> i think it is possible that
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in another 10 to 15 years, we will have another financial crisis. we have had another crisis in america approximately every decade, and each one, by the way, has been worse than the last, more criminal and also more financially and economically serious. so, perhaps, we are going to have to have another one, it really bad one, before the americans force our leaders to change these things. tavis: we have a president who was elected overwhelmingly with progress of support. how do the american people take this back? >> it will take time, and it will take pressure and anger and the creation of new organizations. not that the two situations are identical by any means, but one month ago, nobody would have thought that egypt and tunisia and libya had any chance of throwing off their dictators, and now, they are all gone.
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so, in the long run, i am very optimistic about the american people and about democracy. tavis: is what we witness, so well documented in your film, "inside job," is enough to get people angry, upset enough to rise up, like we see in egypt, tunisia, etc., etc., what is it going to take? i am trying to be optimistic. when dick, we will wake up and take the situation under control as the american people -- one day. what will it take? >> well, it might take another one. it might take five or 10 years of the american people realizing that what we have now is the new normal. this actually is the first of these financial crises that has made a huge mark on the american people. the first two of them did not, for various reasons, but now,
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this has hit a lot of people. foreclosures, the an in play grid, and, of course, the average american incomes are actually down -- foreclosures, unemployment. i think it will take people coming to terms with the fact that that is what has happened as a result of this and deciding that really, they have to do something about it. tavis: so are you hopeful about that? >> in the long run, yes. i think president obama had a very powerful, unique, historical opportunity when he was elected, and he blew it, badly, and now, it is going to be a much longer, much more gradual, tougher process to get this change, and now, we are talking about years, maybe even decades, before this is changed, but, yes, i think it will change.
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tavis: if this president had 80 years' total, and we know he has had two -- if he had eight years total, why can he not transform the system in the next six years? >> he could certainly try, and there are things he can do, but it will be more difficult now that there is a republican congress, certainly a republican house. we will see what happens in the next election. there could be a republican senate, too. and there is a cynicism in america now about its political leaders. i think his campaign was perhaps the last time in a while that we are going to have really idealistic people believing that they can do something by electing somebody as president. and that, of course, that is, perhaps, the biggest casualty. tavis: i think you are right
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about that. i have said that. a lot has said that lately. that idealism is alive, and when that goes away, it does not come back every two years, four years. it does not quite work that way. his name is charles ferguson, the winner of this year's oscar for best documentary, called "inside job." you can get it on dvd and blu- ray. thank you. >> thank you very much. tavis: that is our show for this time. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i am tavis smiley. join me next time. a conversation with legends smokey robinson on his new cd. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading.
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>> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles of economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org- >> be more. >> be more. pbs. pbs.
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